Any new development in Liverpool tends to attract mixed comments, but especially when it also involves an old building; in this case the former William Smith Warehouse on Norfolk/Simpson Street
At the time of writing the following Tweet in Sept 2017, you can see this time the response proved to be very popular:
Baltic Creative revealed exciting plans to redevelop the unlisted building into a ‘Tech Hub’ for creative and digital businesses.
Planning permission was granted, a design team and a main contractor appointed, and then the considerable task of converting the building began back in November 2017. You can view the planning application here 16F/1133 and the ‘Design & Access Statement’ by K2 Architects here
People will have their own views (I like them) on the architectural/aesthetic merits of the redevelopment but there does seem to be universal approval for the efforts to save the building.
Part of the appreciation for the building comes from living memories of the site as Guinness Export Ltd, a large local employer for many years, and also as a result of it being one of a dwindling number of such buildings remaining in the Baltic Triangle (and indeed in the wider city).
A history of the site, building, and a little on William Smith….
The building was erected in two phases, the first phase in 1881 a 4-storey storage warehouse. It was then expanded with a 2-storey extension in 1882 along Simpson St and what was part of New Brick St. According to historical records the buildings were built by William Smith, a paper stock, metal and general merchant who lived at 30 Great George Square. He also actually resided in Norfolk St prior to buying the site to build his warehouse.
We know he lived in Norfolk St from this cutting, which tells of the death of his father-in-law Dominick Quinn: Liverpool Daily Post – Wednesday 16 October 1867
It appears that Mr Quinn was in a similar line of work as William, being a ‘dealer in sacks, bags, mats, twine’ from his premises at 15 York Street for some 25 years. Did William meet his wife through a works do I wonder!?
We have further confirmation of William Smith living at 65 Norfolk Street, prior to demolition, from the Gores Directories of 1865/67.
The first evidence of William being a marine-store dealer comes from a report in the Liverpool Daily Post of Friday 25th July 1856 telling how he had been fined:
You can see he was trading in Brick St which is next to Norfolk Street. There is a possibility that this was actually his father trading, as his name was also William Smith. We know his fathers name from juniors marriage details. The marriage to Bridget Quinn (a bit of doubt re ‘Bridget’ as the record is hard to read) took place on 9th July 1852 in Liverpool. The parents are recorded as William Smith of Brick St and Dominick Quinn of Flint St. The witnesses were John Quinn and Mary Quinn.
William managed to get the wrong side of the law again in 1870 when he was summoned for operating without a horse license, receiving a hefty £5 fine.
This area of The Baltic Triangle was at this time going through some considerable change. It had developed rapidly with the expanding southern dock system. As recently as 1785 our site had still been fields/paddocks owned by ‘the late Mr Jackson:
With docks then arriving rapidly; Kings 1877, Queens 1796 change was inevitable and leases are evident from 1803 on New Brick Street (this the section between Simpson and Chaloner Streets). Watkinson/Norfolk St still have gardens in 1807, but by 1849 court housing (see Ormandy and Davies on map), warehouses, and industry are prevalent. We read of numerous deaths in Lower Brick Street during 1854 due to a cholera outbreak:
From 1859 a new wave of development is evident with the Corporation beginning to sell land, widen and extend streets, and demolishing old housing. It is this phase that allows William Smith to buy the existing buildings in May 1880, and then demolish and redevelop his site. The sale notice:
Liverpool Mail – Saturday 01 May 1880
William managed to purchase the land for £580, with a stipulation ‘to be rebuilt within 3 years’:
William clearly met the 3 year stipulation, although he continued to trade at 60 & 62 Brick Street until 1882 (Gores). He is also listed at 78 Gregson Street Everton perhaps suggesting he set up temporary shop during building works, or more likely was just living there?
The 1881 Street Directory lists William Smith, Marine Store Dealer at 61-63 Norfolk Street. A Marine Store Dealer was a licensed broker who bought and sold used cordage, bunting, rags, timber, metal and other general waste materials. He usually sorted the purchased waste by kind, grade etc. He also repaired and mended sacks etc.
The Norfolk St warehouse of 1881 followed following a simple design common in Liverpool at the time – raised loading bay/doors to accommodate carts, narrow pedestrian access, stairs and protruding hoist. The position of the stairs is indicated by the tier of small windows included to admit light.
K2 Architects say of the buildings erected by Smith:
‘the smaller section to the rear is of a different style and proportion, suggesting it was used for something other than storage. Our research would suggest it housed a delivery entrance and an office/admin area. The huge 500mm thick walls, highly engineered façade and crafted metal work over the entrance would also suggest this warehouse was of high importance when Liverpool was at the height of its trading days’
The dates on the two buildings indicate the separate building phases/opening.
During this time he was clearly doing well and is now living at 3o Great George Square (listed at no. 7 in 1879). He would however soon be visited by misfortune in losing his son:
Liverpool Mercury – Wednesday 11th January 1882
Fire insurance maps from 1890 show Smith’s buildings in use as a ‘Rag WHSE’ and ‘Rag Sorting’. Records also show he was trading as a ‘paper stock merchant’:
1890 – Fire Insurance Map
Over ten years after building the new warehouses we learn that Mr Smiths business has run into trouble, and in 1894 we see the warehouse and its contents for sale:
At this time the street directory is showing:
- 1894 – Smith, William marine-store dealer & paper stock merchant 30 Gt. George Square W. warehouse 61 & 65 Norfolk St
- 61 to 65 Norfolk St. Smith Wm. paper-stock merchants,
- 75 Norfolk St. Bruce & Still iron roof manufacturers,
- 79 Norfolk St. Hall Thos. B & Co export bottlers Ross W.A. & Brother ale and porter exporters (these become relevant as the history progresses)
The Liverpool Mercury of Tuesday 2nd April 1895 illustrates the final demise of the business with a second winding up order, which also suggests he had needed to move house:
This is the last information I found on William Smith…..I wonder what became of him?
One man’s misfortune is another man’s gain as we say and the warehouses continued to provide opportunity. They appear to have been empty for a couple of years but then in 1898 the directory shows:
61 to 65 Norfolk St., Davies John E marine-store dealer
Mr Davies, who had previously traded near by in Simpson Street, is listed as trading at the address up until 1911
Looking at the 1906 map we see the buildings are neighboured by a ‘Bottle Works’ where in 1900 the Guinness association had started:
This would later become the Guinness Export Bottling Plant, as did the Smith Warehouse.
The street directory of 1914 introduces Arthur Samuel Hooper for the first time:
- 1914 – A.S. Hooper at 45 Lydia Anne St and also at 61 – 65 Norfolk St
- 1915 – 61 to 65 Norfolk St., Hooper Arthur Stanley seed merchant (telephone 2036 Royal)
Arthur was a ‘Seed Merchant’ – A S Hooper, whose name could still be seen above the corner doorway prior to the recent redevelopment:
A S Hooper
Mr Hooper clearly did very well and his business survived until at least 1962. Back in 1941 he was, as many, taking precautions to safeguard his premises from the threat of German bombers:
Interestingly there is a Liverpool Councillor called A.S. Hooper at this time. I have not been able to determine if they are one of the same.
The above picture also details ‘Walshs Ltd’ and the numbers 61 63 65, and thanks to a response to my initial blog on the warehouse we learn:
‘AS Hooper was acquired by Walshs Limited of Blackburn who operated under the Magnet Pet Foods brand. Hooper was an old established business founded in 1900. In the 30’s it became part of Magnet which manufactured dog biscuits, supplied bird seed and fish food and made bird cages and accessories for the pet trade. In the 60’s the whole concern was acquired by Garfield Weston and Associated British Foods’
Many will know the door, although not realise where it was, and I am pleased to say it has been retained untouched in the completed redevelopment:
In c1940 the bottling plant next door on Norfolk St had changed from T.B Hall’s to Alexander Macfee & Co Ltd., export bottlers. In 1950 they would in turn change their name:
From 1952 (no directory published in 1951) we see:
- Guinness Exports Ltd at 71 – 83 Norfolk St
In 1962 AS Hooper is still there, but in 1963 there is no directory entry for our warehouses and it appears this is when Guinness Export expand their footprint, in 1964 they are now listed at 65 – 83 Norfolk St.
Many will have good memories of working at the Guinness plant (I would love to hear more), it was by all accounts a great place to work with an active social scene.
Via Twitter tells us of the 1882 warehouse facing Simpson St:
‘it was called the tank room, and had three I think large stainless steel vessels of about 250 barrels each – a barrel being 36 gallons’
…..and we learn the name of the fork-lift truck driver!
Guinness Export Ltd finally closed in early 1986, moving to Runcorn, with the loss of many jobs. Local MP at the time Robert Parry would raise this in Parliament in the context of the wider catastrophic Merseyside job losses.
Guinness Export – Liverpool County Combination side 1962
In 1988/89 the main building, which was originally between Brick St and Norfolk St, and which had stood empty for a number of years was leased by Skillion Holdings. It would appear that the William Smith warehouse was at this time cast aside to slowly deteriorate……..until the recent rescue.
On 19th July 1990 Skillion open Charlotte and Shipwrights House at 67-83 Norfolk St., and by 1991 are proclaiming them 90% full:
Liverpool Echo – Thursday 11 April 1991
How refreshing is it, that at a time when developers are so keen to send in the bulldozers, that a local organisation with local interests at heart are prepared to go that extra mile to preserve rather than destroy. Of course, this is not just out of sentimentality but because they feel it makes good business sense and meets the needs of a unique area of Liverpool. Having had a glimpse of what awaits inside I am sure people will be impressed. Can’t wait to see the café area, basement, and roof terrace in full working mode.
I wish Baltic Creative all the best in their endeavours to now fill the building with creative flare!
Let’s hope this is not the last such redevelopment in the Baltic Triangle.
…………..a few interesting snippets thanks to people on Twitter:
John Coakley @jhcoakley
I see W Smith lived in 30 Great George Square, where my grandfather and uncle lived and worked as GPs. I then worked in Guinness Exports….
You weren’t allowed to drink the Guinness. It was a bonded warehouse patrolled by HM Customs. Instant dismissal or prosecution…. ….nevertheless you came home reeking of Guinness!
We sent Guinness all over the world (a lot of embassies), which is how I knew where to buy it in Greece.
Viewed from Norfolk St
Norfolk St elevation
Norfolk St elevation
Old Brick St elevation
Simpson St elevation
Old Brick St elevation
Interior 1891 warehouse
Interior 1891 warehouse
Norfolk St elevation
Scaffolding has been erected around the site and the road is closed for 40 weeks.
February 2019…..looking good
More interesting pictures here illustrating the renovation task that was undertaken: https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/william-smith-warehouse-liverpool-nov-2017.110799/
For further information on the development contact:
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.baltic-creative.com
If you are interested in historic Liverpool warehouses I thoroughly recommend reading this book/PDF file